engagement and abseiling – just another day in the office.

How an unlikely TV filming request can help with your comms. Or in other words, can the building that you sit in, the Army and rope help you connect?

by Victoria Ford

I often get asked what the biggest challenges of my job are.  I usually talk about varied audiences, digital, prioritisation, crisis communications and the like. 

Then last April a very different challenge came my way in the form of a request that went something along the lines of  ‘We would like to come and film at the DVLA and get the army to abseil off your sixteen storey tower block’.  Okay.  I wasn’t expecting that. 

BBC Wales were developing a ‘Live Longer Wales’ season to be broadcast this autumn.  As DVLA is one of Wales’ largest employers with the majority of our 5,000 workforce sat behind desks all day we were top of their list to be the basis of one of their programmes.  We also have a very tall tower block which is somewhat of an iconic building locally as those of you who have travelled west to the end of the M4 may know. Perfect for abseiling apparently.

I was keen for us to be involved.  This was an opportunity to build on staff engagement and do something that was a bit of fun whilst helping support health and wellbeing in the workplace.   These were messages that we were already driving internally and this was the chance to do it differently.  Was there a risk?  Certainly.  Why would a government department want to give access to a film crew and risk a negative portrayal of the business at a time when we are all focused on customer service, driving transformation and delivering efficiency?   And that for me is exactly why it was right for us to do it.  If we really want to transform the civil service and get people thinking differently about what is possible we need to take some risks. 

The biggest challenge of the four weeks’ filming was probably making the abseil happen.  This needed joint working with our estates team, security, risk team and health and safety.  Where did liability sit if something went wrong?  How could we be certain that we had assessed the risk to the individuals and the organisation effectively?   After initial hesitation all of those responsible got behind the request and did all they could to make sure it happened.  This left the comms team to support the BBC with the logistics and letting staff know what was happening and why.  As the two army abseilers leapt off the top of the building there was a real buzz around the estate.  Staff here were now taking notice and as a result the messages of the programme were starting to get through.

So, was I pleased with the result and was it worth the risk?  Absolutely. The TV programme connected with people who worked here, portrayed both DVLA and the people of Swansea positively and provided inspiration to those who are thinking about changing their lifestyles.  It also gave me the opportunity to have a couple of cameo appearances much to the embarrassment and angst of my children!

Victoria Ford is head of communications at the DVLA.

The programme ‘Live Longer Wales: Is my job killing me?’ was broadcast on BBC One Wales on Wednesday 9 October and is available on iPlayer until 16 October.

Picture credit.